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Ontario reforms its labour laws, but keeps many of us on hold

This week the Wynne government announced proposed changes to Ontario’s employment and labour laws that would see the minimum wage raised to $15/hour, 3 weeks’ paid vacation, protection against cancelled shifts and other reforms for employees in Ontario.

Those are big headlines, but if you look past them, the truth is that most of us in the Factual TV industry won’t benefit from these reforms.  Here’s why:

–Many of us are classified often incorrectly as ‘independent contractors’ and not as ‘employees’, which means we don’t qualify for many workplace rights and benefits, such as overtime and paid vacations.

–For the very few of us who are classified as employees, the Film and Television Industry exemption in the Employment Standards Act (ESA) means that our hours of work – including breaks during the day and time off between shifts – aren’t regulated.

Sadly, the government chose to stick to the status quo on both these issues, except for some nice sounding promises to ‘prohibit’ misclassification of employees which means nothing since no new classifications have been created. (The CMG suggested new definitions such as ‘contract employee’ or ‘freelance employee’ as a hybrid approach that could garner more rights and protections for contractors. It didn’t happen.)

So in the end, the two-year Changing Workplaces Review process that was designed to address precarious work avoided making direct changes affecting the very people who are systematically precarious – that is, most of those who work from contract to contract.

There is one encouraging aspect of the government’s plans. The Guild told the Review authors this Film and Television Exemption needs review – and apparently they listened.  The government is going to do a review of the ESA exemptions and special rules beginning this fall.

So a next step for us is to ensure the government lives up to this commitment to do the review. Your voices will be needed to help us make a compelling case to Queen’s Park about why the Film and Television Industry exemption needs to be removed or amended.

For organized labour in Ontario, May 30 was a day of some success. A $15 minimum wage, 10 emergency personal leave days, 3 weeks’ paid vacation, protection against cancelled shifts — these are all good moves, as long as you’re an employee and you don’t work in a sector that qualifies for a huge loophole in labour law.

Despite the setback, we will work on informing labour ministry officials about our industry’s unique challenges. We will continue to develop a voluntary model contract to apply to production companies in our industry.  So there will be plenty of opportunity to raise our voices, long after the headlines from this week’s announcement are gone.

Lise Lareau
Coordinator, CMG Fairness in Factual TV Campaign


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